On Tuesday, I presented the Orwell Prize for journalism to brave Jenni Russell, who used
the occasion to go public on her battle against cancer. She had not been well enough to apply for the award herself, but her son had selected her best articles and she was a worthy winner.
Here’s the official tribute to her work: “Jenni Russell was the stand-out journalist in an outstanding field. Her empathy for the world beyond Westminster gives her writing an extra
dimension often lacking in political insiders. There is an overriding humanity to her work, whether she is covering the death-throes of the last Labour government or the birth-pangs of the
This really was an extraordinary shortlist and I recommend readers to go on to the Orwell Prize website and click on the links to the articles by Philip Collins, Amelia Gentleman, Catherine Mayer,
Gideon Rachman, Rachel Shabi and Declan Walsh.
I used the platform granted to me as a judge to attack the culture of free labour in
journalism suggesting it was impossible to break into “Fleet Street” today without parental backing and free accommodation in London. I already think it’s possible to see
the effects of this on the quality of journalism. Me and my fellow judge, Michela Wrong struggled to find anyone under 40 to put on the longlist. I am convinced this decline will continue if we
insist on taking our new recruits from such a restricted talent pool.
There is an interesting alternative view from DJ Taylor in the Independent on Sunday today, where he suggests that the old craft model of
recruitment where young journalists had to do their time in local newspapers was just as restricting in its way. “The modern editor may not have much money to throw around, but at least he
can recruit who he likes,” says Mr Taylor. I’m not sure what Orwell would have thought of this, but he is right that journalism has always been a fiercely competitive profession.
DJ Taylor and myself are the living proof that Oxbridge public schoolboys have been entering journalism for some time. We even shared an English teacher, the inspirational Christopher Rowe, who
taught David at Norwich School and me at Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital in Bristol. It’s a small world. Too small.